Can Melania’s Be Best initiative be taken seriously?

There’s a part of me that feels sorry for Melania Trump. Just a little. It’s clear that she feels uncomfortable in the role of First Lady. She accepted the role of wife of a fat cat, but no one thought then that the fat cat would run for president.

I even feel somewhat sympathetic to the argument that presidential spouses shouldn’t be required to take on a cause. They didn’t ask for the job. Still, they’re housed and fed at taxpayer expense, and you know what welfare critics say about work requirements.

Once Mrs. Trump made an official public announcement of her cause, it is fair game for comment. She announced her “Be Best” initiative a week ago Monday in a Rose Garden ceremony.

It doesn’t surprise me that it took 16 months for Mrs. Trump to figure out what she would do. She got laughed at for the interest she expressed earlier, combatting cyberbullying; she can’t control the cyberbully she lives with. Now she’s incorporated cyberbullying into her new initiative as one of three “pillars” — the others are well-being and combating opioid addiction — to teach children about social, emotional, and physical health.

What the initiative is actually going to do is vague, and the relationship between the three pillars isn’t obvious. The only action announced on Be Best’s short, platitudinous website is that the initiative would champion successful existing programs. It’s understandable that Mrs. Trump came in for media skepticism.

Another accusation of plagiarism (remember her Republican Convention speech?) didn’t help; she had recycled an Obama administration brochure about teenagers and the internet and put her name on it.

The Trump administration also didn’t help by announcing on the very same Monday that undocumented parents and children entering the country would be separated at the border. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said about an hour after Mrs. Trump had said in her ceremony, “It is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind [children] that when they are using their voices — whether verbally or online — they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”

Also that same day, President Trump asked Congress to cancel $7 billion in unspent money from the Children’s Health Insurance Program. So much for kindness in the context of children.

If inspiring words are continuously contradicted by the behavior of the president and his cabinet, who’s going to listen? I’d like to give Mrs. Trump the benefit of a doubt, but it’s hard to see how her initiative will be taken seriously.



A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Call the Midwife fans being devastated by Barbara’s death. Now there are online rumors that Barbara’s spouse, the Rev. Tom, may not be back for season eight of the popular public television series. “Maybe he’s in series eight and maybe he isn’t,” Jack Ashton answered when asked whether his character would be back next season.

If Tom doesn’t return, then this series fan is angry that he and Barbara came back at all this season. Gone from the first four episodes because Tom had a temporary assignment in Birmingham, they didn’t return until the end of episode five. It would have been easy to write them out of the series by explaining that they’d decided to minister elsewhere.

It’s not that I require the absence of pain and suffering in a television drama, but Call the Midwife already has had tragedy aplenty among the regular cast, not to mention the one-episode characters. Jenny’s boyfriend died in a fall. Dr. Turner’s son Timothy contracted polio. Sister Mary Cynthia was assaulted, leaving her mentally broken. Sister Evangelina died. Trixie battles alcoholism and has broken two engagements.

But TV writers are probably wiser than I am about what attracts audiences. When Charlotte Ritchie, the actor who played Barbara, wanted off the show, the writers must have debated the obvious solution of letting Barbara and Tom leave for another parish. They chose a heart-wrenching plot instead. Call the Midwife fans I know are still talking about it.



President Trump is withdrawing from an Iran nuclear deal that has worked, in the name of unrelated demands that are unworkable, at very high cost to America’s alliances and the value of its word, with no viable alternative policy in place and at the risk of igniting the Middle East. Only Trump can believe that makes sense.
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen

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